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Romney rivals unswayed by campaign to play up delegate advantage

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March 8, 2012: Mitt Romney speaks during a campaign stop at the Port of Pascagoula in Pascagoula, Miss. (AP)

Mitt Romney's campaign is entering the psych-out phase. 

On the heels of his robust Super Tuesday victories, the Republican presidential frontrunner is ever-so-academically nudging his competitors to get out -- citing the challenges they face in the delegate math. 

Yet the campaign trail taunts, in the form of dispassionate memos and background briefings with reporters, seem to be emboldening his opponents more than discouraging them. 

The possibility of Rick Santorum or Newt Gingrich becoming the nominee is certainly more remote given Romney's Super Tuesday-aided delegate advantage. However, with two-thirds of the delegates still up for grabs the race is not a lock for the former Massachusetts governor.
Santorum on Thursday urged an Alabama crowd to elect him this coming Tuesday, vowing that if they do a "conservative" will be nominated. 

Gingrich, who is also under pressure from Santorum supporters to bow out so their candidate can have a clearer run at Romney, told Fox News on Thursday that "we have a real race." 

"It's basically a three-way race with Ron Paul as a fourth candidate who's getting his percentage," Gingrich said. "We swept an amazing number of delegates in Georgia, which was the largest state on Super Tuesday. We also got delegates in Tennessee and in Oklahoma. And we have our eye on several states where we think we'll be very competitive in the next 30 to 45 days." 

Romney, who has compiled 37 percent of the delegates he needs to win the nomination, needs to win 47 percent of the remaining delegates up for grabs in order to clinch it. 

By comparison, Santorum would need 63 percent of the remaining delegates. Gingrich would need roughly 70 percent. Paul would need more than that. 

"It's mathematically possible but very uphill," Karl Rove, a Fox News analyst and former adviser to President George W. Bush, told Fox News. 

Rove said, though, that it's not constructive for candidates to be urging each other to get out. 

"People in politics tend to be stubborn, and if you tell somebody you've lost, get out, sometimes the response is to sort of stiffen their spine," he said. 

Though enough delegates are available for any of the four remaining candidates to clinch the nomination, the realities of the delegate-allocation process make that task difficult -- as the Romney campaign has been eager to point out. 

Few of the remaining contests award their delegates on a winner-take-all basis. Many divvy up the delegates among multiple candidates depending on how well they perform. This saps the benefit out of big wins -- for instance, Santorum won Oklahoma on Tuesday but got only 14 delegates. Romney and Gingrich each won 13. 

"Even if Senator Santorum or Speaker Gingrich win one of the 30 remaining (proportional) states, Governor Romney is still likely to finish second, thus taking a considerable portion of the delegates," a Romney campaign memo instructed his rivals this week. 

The memo, driving home the point, said Super Tuesday "dramatically reduced the likelihood" that anyone but Romney would be the nominee. 

A Romney aide later went further, saying it would take an "act of God" for Gingrich or Santorum to surpass Romney. 

The next big contest up is Kansas, which holds caucuses this Saturday. Only Santorum and Paul are campaigning there, while the rest of the candidates spend their time exclusively in Mississippi and Alabama - which vote Tuesday. 

Wyoming is also wrapping up its caucuses this Saturday, along with Guam, the Virgin Islands and the Northern Mariana Islands

Though Paul and Santorum have made the biggest plays for caucus states, Romney's campaign memo noted that most of the remaining contests are primaries, which "require a national organization that Governor Romney's opponents simply don't have." 

The race plods on. Rove predicted that the aftermath of the upcoming Southern contests could leave the candidates a similar distance apart. 

"We may have a delegate race next week ... that's a lot like it is today," he said. 

Romney's math problem -- becoming president isn't just a numbers game